Proposed Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

By Jovan Figueroa

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with elected officials, community leaders and Harlem Hospital staff, announced support for a ban of menthol cigarettes November 6. Menthol cigarettes are more addictive and can be more difficult to quit than other cigarettes, according to studies. Gillibrand said she was supporting a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed standard that bans using menthol to flavor cigarettes. In 2009, the FDA prohibited all characterizing flavors except menthol and tobacco in cigarettes as required under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The May 2022 FDA proposal, now under OMB review, would prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor as well.

In 2021, menthol-flavored cigarettes made up 37% of all cigarette sales in the U.S. according to a Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report. Menthol is a chemical compound that can be found in peppermint and other similar plants. However, menthol can also be produced in a lab. According to the CDC, “Menthol can change the way the brain registers the sensations of taste and pain. In cigarettes, menthol creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways, making the smoke feel less harsh and easier to inhale.”

The CDC says that people who smoke menthol cigarettes can find it harder to quit smoking than people who smoke non-menthol cigarettes. Data shows that the percentage of people who have succeeded in quitting non-menthol cigarettes is higher than the percentage of people who have successfully quit smoking menthol cigarettes. This is because menthol enhances the addictive properties of nicotine in the brain.

The CDC says the tobacco industry has marketed particular products to specific groups such as the African American community, other ethnic minority groups, young people and women. The industry does this through giveaways, advertisements, branding, giveaways, and sponsorships. Tobacco companies often focus on Black-owned publications. They offer sponsorship of events like jazz concerts and depict people dressed in clothing popular with rap and hip-hop artists in ads.

“In 2023, cigarettes are still killing far too many New Yorkers and Americans across the nation,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Menthol cigarettes are especially addictive and the tobacco industry aggressively targets our kids to put them on the path to dependency at a young age.”  The menthol ban,  Gillibrand suggests, will decrease the number of Americans experimenting with tobacco which can lead to dependence. According to estimates by the FDA, if the ban is passed, smoking in the US will be reduced by 15% and 324,000 to 654,000 smoking-related deaths (92,000 to 238,000 African Americans) might be avoided over 40 years.


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